Even with IEPs and 504s in place, sometimes our schools are not able to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of our kids. With the additional (significant) pressure of distance learning, many families are finding that they need to supplement their children’s education with supports outside of the school setting. Here, we provide an overview of the role and services provided by an educational therapist, and why hiring one can help round out your child’s academic and social-emotional development.

 

Two people sit at a white desk and look through a booklet.


What is an Educational Therapist?

An educational therapist (ET) is a professional who combines educational and therapeutic approaches for evaluation, individualized intervention, case management, and advocacy on behalf of children and adults with learning disabilities or other learning challenges. Unlike tutors who work with a student on classwork, homework, and tests (essentially reinforcing what was already taught in the classroom), an ET focuses on addressing the causes of the individual’s academic challenges. ETs are often hired to help those with attention or learning challenges, who need support with executive functioning skills, or who need specialized instruction. 

If your child has higher support needs, you’ll want to look for an ET who has experience working in special education with kids who have more significant disabilities. 


How Does a Tutor Differ from an Educational Therapist? 

As Sarah Cacciato, an educational consultant and therapist and co-owner of L&S Special Education tells us, “educational therapy and tutoring are often considered to be the same, when in reality, ET is significantly different.” She continues, “Educational therapy is an individualized program designed specifically for each child based on their individual strengths and learning profile. It’s about meeting a child where they are, and working from that point on specific skills, primarily academic and executive functioning skills.”

A tutor may not be trained to support children with learning and thinking differences, while an ET is experienced in noticing and assessing signs of learning differences and taking steps to address them. Because of this, ETs are well suited to understand and help interpret neuropsychological and psychological educational testing, and how these results relate to academics and behavior.


What Do They Offer?

Academics 

  • An educational therapist will focus on why your child is struggling in a particular area of study, and then use strategies and accommodations to help them improve their academic performance. 

  • An ET administers academic assessments, develops intervention plans, and implements strategies to address challenges with learning. They provide personalized remedial instruction to children and adults with learning challenges, including but not limited to dyslexia, ADHD, executive functioning deficits, and language, visual, and auditory processing issues. 


Social-Emotional Skills

  • It is possible that over time your child has developed anxiety from struggling in school. If this is the case, the ET will not only work on academics but will also teach your child coping skills for dealing with this anxiety. 
     
  • An ET will work on helping to improve the emotional and behavioral issues caused by struggling with school.
     
  • The Child Mind Institute states that an educational therapist “is a professional who is trained to understand an individual child’s learning challenges, and the patterns and behaviors [they have] developed to work around, or mask, [their] deficits. Some of those behaviors—avoidance, acting out, even tantrums—may have been misinterpreted by parents and teachers who read them as opposition or impulsivity.”


Strategies and Treatments

The types of specific strategies and treatments an educational therapist will use with your child will vary depending on the child’s individual needs. Sarah Cacciato tells us that sessions for children with higher support needs will look very different from those for children with learning challenges like dyslexia. “When working with children who require less intensive services, educational therapy is focused primarily on building executive functioning skills as well as assisting in academics. When working with children with significant needs, the ET creates an individualized plan with targeted skills, the educational program that is the best fit for that child, and the supports needed to meet these goals.”

  • One of the benefits of working with an ET is that they may act as a case manager to link the home and school settings. An ET can help coordinate and collaborate with tutors, specialists, teachers, and parents, and should have regular communication with parents and provide recommended activities they can work on with their child to help build skills if requested. 

How Do I Select the Best Educational Therapist for My Child? 

  • Credentials 
    When searching for an educational therapist, parents should know there is not a specific state license for ETs like those that other specialized therapists, such as speech and occupational therapists, are required to have. However, most ETs have completed a certification program and have a background in education and other specialities, as well as experience working with children who have learning differences. ETs are also often trained to take a multisensory approach to interventions. Their training and specialized experience can vary greatly, so when searching for an ET, it is important to look closely at the therapist’s qualifications and ask about their experience with your child’s diagnosis and individual circumstances.
     
  • Compatibility
    Selecting an educational therapist is similar to finding any provider that will work closely with your child, such as a pediatrician, counselor, or physical or occupational therapist. Dr. Matthew Cruger, director of the Child Mind Institute’s Learning and Development Center, stresses that it’s not only important to find an ET who can work with your child’s specific learning needs but also your child’s personality. The ET needs to first establish a supportive relationship with your child with the use of positive reinforcement. Dr. Cruger emphasizes that the personality of the ET is an essential component of educational therapy: “A person who’s clear, nonjudgmental, encouraging, and able to use humor will be most effective for many kids, especially ones who have become demoralized about learning.”
     
  • Costs
    The specialized training and experience required to work with children who have learning challenges means that an educational therapist will cost more than a tutor.
    • Average cost of a one-hour session: 
      In-home session: $100–$200
      Office visit or Zoom session: $100–$165 
       
    • Payment options: 
      Out-of-pocket: Educational therapy is not usually administered by a medical professional, and therefore is not typically covered by insurance. 
      If you’re interested in pursuing educational therapy as part of your child’s distance learning or compensatory education plan, you may be able to ask your district to pay for it. Let us know if you’d like more information about this. 


How Do I Find an Educational Therapist? 

To get you started, here are a few resources for finding an educational therapist.

  • Association of Educational Therapists (AET) 
    Established in 1979, the Association of Educational Therapists is the national professional organization for educational therapists. Their mission is to “provide leadership, certification, and training to educational therapy professionals” and to “facilitate public access to educational therapy services.” They set professional standards and requirements for ETs, including academic criteria, standards of ethical practice, and continuing education requirements. Use the AET online educational therapist locator to find an ET in your area by entering your zip code and specific search criteria. AET verifies the training background of ETs at the Associate, ET/Professional, and Board Certified levels. 
     
  • Ask for referrals from specialists  
    As we know, one of the best ways to find a specialist is by asking other specialists. You may wish to start your search for an ET by getting referrals from one or several of your child’s specialists or providers (including your Regional Center). 
  • Los Angeles–area educational therapists 
     


COVID-19: Assessments and Appointments 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll want to find out how the educational therapist is conducting sessions and assessments/evaluations, including:

  • Are sessions taking place in person either in the home or at their office? If so, what precautions are being taken?
     
  • Are telehealth sessions an option?
     
  • How do they conduct and format sessions with regard to academics and social-emotional learning through telehealth for optimal results? 

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